Pulse 85: Implantable Millimeter-Sized MRI Brain Sensors

29 October 2018
Giulio Prisco

MRI Brain Sensor

The tiny MRI sensors developed at MIT (see below), which can be implanted in the brain to monitor its electromagnetic activity, are spectacular enough, but the MIT engineers plan to further miniaturize the sensors so that more of them can be injected, enabling the imaging of light or electrical fields over a larger brain area.

“If the sensors were on the order of hundreds of microns, which is what the modeling suggests is in the future for this technology, then you could imagine taking a syringe and distributing a whole bunch of them and just leaving them there,” said research leader Alan Jasanoff. “What this would do is provide many local readouts by having sensors distributed all over the tissue.”

From there, science fictional “neural dust” able to monitor and stimulate the brain could be within reach.

Tiny MRI sensors monitor electromagnetic activity in the brain. MIT engineers have devised a new technique to detect either electrical activity or optical signals in the brain, using a minimally invasive technique based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A research paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering describes tiny sensors that can be implanted in the brain to allow scientists to monitor electrical activity or light emitted by luminescent proteins. The sensors, just a few millimeters in size, can pick up electrical signals similar to those produced by action potentials (the electrical impulses fired by single neurons), or local field potentials (the sum of electrical currents produced by a group of neurons). The sensors don’t need to carry any kind of power supply, because they are powered by the radio signals that the external MRI scanner emits.

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Brain wave stimulation device enhances memory. Researchers at UC Davis have shown that the entrainment of theta brain waves with a commercially available device not only enhances theta wave activity, but also boosts memory performance. A study published in Cognitive Neuroscience indicates that patients who had used "entrainment" devices, which stimulate brain wave activity with a combination of sound and lights, showed both improved memory performance and enhanced theta wave activity.

Drug cocktail increases healthy lifespan in worms. Scientists at Yale-NUS College have discovered a combination of drugs that increases healthy lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans. The scientists administered combination compounds targeting different aging pathways to C. elegans. The results, published in Developmental Cell, show that two drug pairs extended the mean lifespan of the worms synergistically, and combined with a third compound almost doubled mean lifespans, an effect larger than any lifespan extension previously reported for any drug intervention in adult animals.

New drug combination treats blood cancer in mice. Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have developed a promising targeted strategy to treat chemotherapy-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and a diagnostic test to determine which AML patients would most likely benefit from this treatment. A study published in Cancer Discovery shows that the experimental treatment eliminated all signs of disease (complete remission) in 100 percent of the laboratory mice that received the treatment, while those that received the standard treatment all died.

3D bioprinting could permit creating artificial blood vessels and organ tissue. Engineers at UC Boulder have developed a 3D printing technique that allows for localized control of an object's firmness, opening up new biomedical avenues that could one day include artificial arteries and organ tissue. A research paper published in Nature Communications outlines a layer-by-layer printing method that features fine-grain, programmable control over rigidity, allowing researchers to mimic the complex geometry of blood vessels that are highly structured and yet must remain pliable. According to the scientists, the findings could one day lead to better, more personalized treatments for those suffering from hypertension and other vascular diseases.

Immunotherapy helps triple-negative breast cancer patients. New research led by Queen Mary University of London and St Bartholomew's Hospital has shown that, by using a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy, the body's own immune system can be tuned to attack triple-negative breast cancer, extending survival by up to ten months. The research, published in New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology 2018 Congress in Munich, also showed that the combined treatment reduced the risk of death or the cancer progressing by up to 40 per cent.


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